Friday, August 9, 2013

No Time for Public Comment

The change of use for the former Register-Star building is probably the most controversial proposal to be made for Hudson's central commercial district since 2010, when Eric Galloway's New York City-based Lantern Organization wanted to build Starboard, thirty-three units of permanent supportive housing at the corner of Warren and Fifth streets. Then, overwhelmingly negative community sentiment, voiced at a public meeting, caused Lantern to withdraw its proposal. Now, in considering a plan involving Galloway's Hudson-based not-for-profit, the Galvan Foundation, nobody wants to hear from the public.

On Thursday night, a special meeting of the Planning Commission to review the plan to locate the Columbia-Greene Partnership Academy, a.k.a. "the Bridge," on a significant corner of Hudson's main street, drew a standing room only crowd. The Planning Commission, guided through the process by city attorney Cheryl Roberts, heard first from Joe Catalano, attorney for the Lantern Organization and now presumably also for the Galvan Initiatives Foundation. He began by explaining that all the students (a maximum of sixty) and half the teachers (six) would arrive on a single bus from Hudson High School every morning at 8 and depart on a single bus every afternoon at 3. Later, he modified that to say that a second bus from Catskill would be arriving and departing each day. Catalano assured the commission that there would be "minimum use outside the building" and instruction would take place "behind closed doors"--including "modified PE," which Bruce Potter, superintendent of the Berkshire Union Free School District, a partner in this endeavor, explained involved such things as weaving and "literature-based assignments about exercise."
Correction: I've been told that Potter did not say weaving but rather Wii Games, which are video games that involve the player or players standing and playing sports against virtual opponents.

The Planning Commission's review of this project needs to be expedited because, if the building is to be used for the alternative learning program, it must be ready for students by September 4. According to Catalano, the developers "only recently" learned that a site plan review was required in order to get a building permit. According to all accounts, no one in city government knew anything about this plan until July 22, so whose fault is it that they are running out of time? 

Catalano asked the Planning Commission to authorize a building permit "at our own risk," meaning presumably that if the site plan was not approved by the Planning Commission, any work on the building done in the interim would be for naught. Roberts advised the commission that this would be illegal and told Catalano, "You've gone to the state legislature [to get enabling legislation passed]. This has been in the works for a while, but the Planning Commission has only just received [the application]."

According to Catalano, the work being done at the building now is all interior demolition. A demolition permit was applied for--by Rick Scalera, special adviser to the Galvan Foundation, whose signature appears on the document--and issued on the same day: July 23.

At the beginning of the meeting, Planning Commission chair Don Tillson explained that site plan review was limited to such things as lighting, parking, access and egress. After some discussion, the Planning Commission agreed to impose some conditions on the project:

  • Site plan approval would be for only two years. Since the project is described as a "two-year commitment," and there is a two-year lease with Galvan, were it to continue beyond the two years, it would have to come before the Planning Commission again for review.
  • The arrival and departure of students will be supervised. This condition is intended to prevent students from hanging out around the school and loitering in the neighborhood.
  • There will be only one bus from Hudson High School and one bus from Catskill arriving and departing each day. According to HCSD superintendent Maria Suttmeier, "we already stop buses on Warren Street," so having two buses stop to discharge or pick up thirty or so students each won't be any different from what already happens.
  • Faculty and staff of the school will not park on Warren Street and take parking spaces away from the customers of retail businesses. Planning Commission member Cappy Pierro helpfully suggested that they could park in the vacant lot, owned by the City, at Fourth and State streets, but Roberts pointed out that probably wasn't an option since "you're thinking of selling that lot."   
Roberts said she was not comfortable about drafting the conditions "on the spot," explaining, "It's very important that the conditions are satisfactory." Catalano volunteered Jonathan Cohen, another Galvan attorney, to draft the conditions. The plan is that, once the conditions have been defined to everyone's satisfaction, the Planning Commission will officially vote on approving and "go through the SEQR form" at their regular meeting on Wednesday, August 14.

When the question was posed of whether or not the project needed a public hearing, Pierro opined, "I think no, because we want to expedite this as much as we can." In spite of the fact that the room was filled to overflowing with people clearly interested in the outcome and just before the meeting Tillson had been handed a sheaf of written comments from Warren Street business owners who were unable attend, which he acknowledged and said would be "taken into consideration," commission members Gail Grandinetti, Claudia DeStefano, and Glenn Martin agreed that they didn't think a public hearing was necessary.

Meanwhile, just down the street, seven retail businesses were celebrating the opening of three new shops and the relocation of one in their midst. The festive mood was diminished only slightly by the presence of a few stunned and disaffected people who had come to the Sunset Soiree straight from City Hall. 

Can it be imagined that the revitalization of Hudson has gained so much momentum that it is a juggernaut--unstoppable and able to survive unscathed plans and decisions that don't take into consideration the interests of the city's main street businesses? That seems like a reckless assumption no municipality should make.


  1. "modified PE," which Bruce Potter, superintendent of the Berkshire Union Free School District, a partner in this endeavor, explained involved such things as weaving and "literature-based assignments about exercise."

    This says more about the demented state of public education than anything I've seen in a long while....

    --peter m.

  2. According to HCSD superintendent Maria Suttmeier, "we already stop buses on Warren Street," so having two buses stop to discharge or pick up thirty or so students each won't be any different from what already happens.

    As someone who regularly rides the shopping bus (if this is what is being referred to), there are pick ups and drop off of maximum 3-4 people every 3-4 blocks on Warren. I think it's pretty different than 2 busses holding 30 kids each. Maybe there is another big bus that somehow I'm not seeing...

  3. ...there goes Cappy after the building site at 4th and State. this is the most important piece of the galloway puzzle, beware...

  4. Sounds like placing an alternative school in the old Reg-Star building is not only an unfortunate choice for the surrounding business community but also in terms of the needs of the youth who would attend. My experience as a teacher in alternative schools suggests that "weaving and literature-based assignments about exercise" as phys. ed. coupled with no outdoor space are completely contrary to the needs of the students the school is supposed to serve. Sounds to me as though this space will not meet the needs of the kids nor be in the interests of the surrounding community.

  5. I was at the Planning Commission meeting and a more ill-equipped group of people sitting on a dais you'd be hard pressed to find. So-called "Chairman" Tillson was spoon fed procedure from City Attorney Cheryl Roberts (that's really what we want more of, eh?) who never followed Robert's Rules of Orders once (examples, the meeting was never called to order, motions were never requested, seconded, or passed...) and the sodden lot of them sat in their whale-form stupor nodding like bobble-head figures at everything Tillson repeated from Roberts. In Hudson we're accustomed to being embarassed by our city government, but this took a new nose-dive into the nethers when Tillson averred a public hearing wasn't needed on the subject of school placement...and all the peanut gallery could do was exhale and moan in helpless disbelief. The Mayor is mis-informed when (according to a comment on the Register-Star website about this) he compares this favorably to the disaster years ago with the first alternative learning center. For a clear explanation in a cogent way about all this, hear Alderman John Friedman's "At Issue" WGXC radio comments, referenced earlier in this "Gossips..." site.

  6. That meeting was like deja vu, of the days when we were all muffled during Mim Traver's reign as Common Council President (albeit this was a Planning Commission Meeting, not a CC meeting) however, there were a great many frustrated people in the audience. Harking back to the bad old days is depressing, but I do think the juggernaut that is Hudson will succeed in spite of its leadership. But what a misguided idea. Better for the boys in the country really, instead of the heart of town. How many empty schools are there?

  7. I hear so much about the bad old days when the public was routinely excluded from planning decisions, but from the documents I've seen it appears that there were once more opportunities for public participation than there are today.

    This week I made a lone inquiry into how a small monument could have been installed at the Promenade park without the public's knowledge and without any level of review.

    The monument is little more than an advertising gimmick for a museum in Catskill, and its placement by the DPW at the preeminent viewing spot along the rail, and actually IN the Promenade's footpath, is an affront to the Proprietor's stated wishes and to my enjoyment of the view.

    Where are the "history people," who ought to be defending the integrity of the Promenade, itself a historical monument? They're nowhere to be seen.

    Perhaps we're given fewer and fewer opportunities to comment because our betters in city government wager that the public is ultimately as uncaring and hypocritical as they are. After this week, I would have to agree with them.

    1. Your statement in the first paragraph is true, a sea change came, surprisingly, when the Republican Mayor Cranna got in and Mary Anne Lemmerman ousted Traver as CC President. Their public insisted on open meetings - and things did open up. But in the last few years they have clammed up again, especially at the committee meetings.

    2. J - Thanks for the corroboration. I'll store those names for future reference.

      This year a few individuals applied pry bars to the council's culture of secrecy with mixed results. The NYS DOS Committee on Open Government was justifiably consulted more than once.

      Of course one can't know beforehand what ought to be public and what's acceptable for "executive session." That's why I got a special kick out of council president Moore in the Register Star decrying secrecy in government thanks to Snowden's revelations - without whom nobody would know what was really going on. Does Mr. Moore appreciate our efforts too? Is it all just a game?

      The best recent attempt to penetrate the council was foiled by news that the executive discussion included privileged information about the lawsuit with Holcim. But I still wonder what other contents, seemingly unrelated, could have been discussed publicly.

      For years the balance in Hudson has been clearly on the side of secrecy in government, and away from an openness to public participation. (Our betters are so busy getting so little done!)

      The difference, it seems, between the Cranna-Lemmerman days and now is that you said they responded to "their public."

      Nowadays it's only a few individuals demanding transparency, who are easily ignored or smeared as cranks.

      Until residents get involved again, which includes sorely-needed new voices, the usual politicos will continue to fill the vacuum with energies likely to advance their own interests. They might even argue, what else is there to go by?


  8. At last nights Planning board ALP meeting the point was raised again and again that the students will be dropped off at the school at 8:00 am and picked up at 3:30 pm.
    The students will not be allowed out into the community at any time but if any of them walk to school or from the building they will be "monitored".
    Doesn't that mean any teenager walking on Warren Street will also have to be "monitored" ? or are we going to put some sort of mark on the ALP students so we know which ones they are ? (HELLO BAD IDEA!)
    And, the point about their athletic program being "online" ???
    I don't think one person at last nights meeting thinks this a bad program but slamming it into the middle of Columbia County's (and probably the Hudson valley's) most talked about street with absolutely no room for any outdoor activity seems wrong.

  9. The people of Hudson do not need another expense to educate the students. Millions are spent by the local school each year.

    The quality of education at the school is rated one of the worst in the state while the costs are very high. Why r the people of Hudson adding even more expense to a terrible system?

    The regular school in the specified location can handle - or should be required to handle - these students and their needs. Why are the tax payers of Hudson being forced to bear another wasteful expense when the millions already disbursed produce the worst school system in the state. Let's cut down the waste and look into what's wrong with the regular school.

  10. Apparently "The Bridge" financing is not coming from us but elsewhere.

    The HCSD is always desperate for more money via our taxes yearly.

    Instead of spending $5500. per month to Galvan the empty third floor of the Middle School should have become the rightful location for "The Bridge."

    That is a school actually designed for kids.

    Its not a makeshift political football.

  11. Reviewing the Berkshire Union Free School District site, I found that their models of alternative education warrant much more than the Old Register Star building can accommodate. Their educational classes include: agri-science, culinary, trades, and auto mechanics and a gymnasium, weight room, swimming pool and athletic fields are listed as important features. It seem that the Hudson-Catskill alternative educational program does not include most of the elements that the Berkshire Union Free School District's philosophy is based on. What are we doing? For more information please see

  12. I've read that a student is determined to be "at risk" based on their grades, attendance, and/or behavior. I also read that an "at risk" student needs to have hope for the future, that a satisfying future is within their grasp & that they must have support from home, school & community.
    I have failed & the Hudson Community has failed to provide support.
    Is it possible to offer up positive alternatives to what seems to be a quick fix & location or should we all protest & chant "not in my business block"
    Is there a place for risk students at the Boces III bldg.? Was the former Greenport School ever considered? Are there places available in the Catskill area? Is Vincent correct stating that the 3rd floor is empty at HCSD Middle School? Are there existing programs that provide parents, guardians, education system & community to meet w/ students to show & provide support?
    Or do we need the deep pockets of The Galvan Foundation to continue to deliver solutions to the City of Hudson?
    Don't shoot the messenger, but me thinks it's Galvan.

    1. Team Galvan / Scalera at your service = "why not have it OUR way"